Reaching out can be a struggle, but the fruits reaped can be amazing
6 MINUTE READ
“Being a doctor and an introvert is probably going to be really hard. Staying in a profession where I have to talk to both patients and colleagues all the time must be so taxing. I imagine it is so much easier for extroverts!”
This was an off-hand remark that I made to my pastor a few years ago. It was the end of my third year in medical school, after one year immersed in the hospital environment. As a self-proclaimed introvert, this was something that I was concerned about when commencing medical school, as someone who was always nervous in social situations. But what he said in response was really insightful and has stuck with me since then.
“Yeah, but you tend to be more particular in selecting relationships to invest in.”
Having worked for almost one year as a doctor now, God has taught me a lot about myself and how to conduct myself as a Christian introvert in the workplace, within an extremely short timespan. Naturally, this conversation with my pastor has also prompted my own reflection on my current relationships with people, inside and outside the hospital, particularly in the areas of teamwork and small group learning.
But before I delve into these topics, there are a few things that I need to clarify about Christian introverts.
The first thing that I should make abundantly clear is that being extroverted or introverted most certainly does NOT define our identity. While these personality traits may encompass what we are, they do not define WHO we are. Paul writes that “… for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptised into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal 3:26-28) While every member of the church is made uniquely with different gifts, our identity is clearly in Christ, not in whether we are introverted or extroverted.
Secondly, Christian introverts have their own strengths and weaknesses. This article is by no means biased towards introverts! Strengths of being introverted include the capacity to listen well to other people, to meditate or reflect well on the Word and to be introspective and realistic about our own flaws. However, this can become a major weakness if we become too introspective, as we become too self-absorbed, and judge others or even ourselves. Our natural inclination to veer away from social activities can be used as a crutch to avoid engaging with others, or to shy away from opportunities within the church.
Keeping these strengths and weaknesses in mind, how does this apply in the context of teamwork and in small group learning in the hospital?
Struggles with teamwork as an introvert – Dealing with workplace conflict
Dealing with workplace conflict may have looked completely different twenty to thirty years ago, but in an environment where medicine is becoming increasingly collaborative and less patriarchal, teamwork has become more and more important. We request consultations from medical or surgical specialities in our more complex patients. We liaise with allied health professionals both on the wards and in the emergency department before we can safely discharge patients. We bounce ideas off other people in our own teams. Being able to clearly communicate, and work as a team with medical colleagues or other healthcare professionals, is crucial.
But while clear communication and fluid teamwork is ideal in every circumstance, the reality is that at some point you will come across someone that you may have difficulty working with. It is already well-established that tension and negative behaviours between medical colleagues often manifest as poorer outcomes for our patients. Unfortunately, many Christian introverts are conflict-averse and will avoid confrontation if possible. Compounding this is the fact that our social batteries drain very quickly, particularly in an unfamiliar or tense environment.
So, what can Christian introverts do about this? Here are a few key points that I have found helped me in these scenarios:
- Holding onto simple gospel truths that evoke a response from us
- Being understanding of other peoples’ circumstances
There is no doubt that medical health professionals need to develop a ‘thick skin’ over time. This does not mean that we need to become callous or dismissive to patients. It means that in the long run, we cannot fully invest emotionally in a reaction to every angry patient or colleague we encounter, while still being compassionate and extending professional courtesy. It is simply not a sustainable way of working and people will burn out extremely quickly. However, this is often difficult for introverts to do, especially people (including myself) who like to be people-pleasers. Therefore, in the moments when these situations are occurring, I like to have a few simple gospel truths to fall back on.
“Reflecting on the gravity of these words often helps me not to be discouraged in the face of difficulty. In times of conflict, this passage reminds me that even though there is a stark contrast between my sin and God’s perfection, I am unconditionally loved by Him.”
I personally love to use scripture as simple gospel truths. One that I love leaning on is Romans 5:8; “…but God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us”. Reflecting on the gravity of these words often helps me not to be discouraged in the face of difficulty. In times of conflict, this passage reminds me that even though there is a stark contrast between my sin and God’s perfection, I am unconditionally loved by Him. As I mentioned before, this method works for me as an introvert who is able to meditate on the Word for extended periods of time.
It is important to also note that these gospel truths should evoke a response from us. These truths should not just be used to support yourself when these things happen, but they should also encourage you to speak up firmly in times of conflict. I am not saying that this is easy for introverts, but these Scriptures should move us to get out of our comfort zone and speak out. In a healthcare setting, this is pertinent, especially where there is a patient’s quality of care at stake. We also have the privilege of the Holy Spirit that convicts our hearts of the Word and helps us to action it.
Prayer is also crucial in situations of workplace conflict. It is a very human reaction to feel reflexively bitter, self-righteous, or outraged when there is workplace conflict or a lack of teamwork. It is also natural for introverts to bottle this up and ‘vent’ to other people to avoid confrontation, leaving these feelings stewing away in a vicious cycle. Yet we see in the Bible that Jesus does not model any of these responses at all! Here is a man without blemish and without sin that was slandered by the Pharisees, mocked by the crowds and soldiers as he walked to Calvary and betrayed by Judas, one of his disciples(!) and yet he responds with forgiveness, mercy and offering a chance of repentance. These are all qualities that we should be striving to reflect when experiencing difficulties in teamwork.
Prayer for wisdom, strength, and courage to respond in the ways that Jesus did, is paramount. It helps me to rely on God rather than myself and it helps me to re-align my actions with God’s will rather than my own. It enables me to take a step back and place this situation in God’s hands, because honestly, I’d rather have the Lord of all and the creator of the universe handle this than myself. We can also ask for the Holy Spirit to give us peace.
Being understanding of other peoples’ circumstances
In some ways, this is easier for Christian introverts as we tend to reflect on and mull over things a lot more. At the end of the day, in spite of all the conflict or lack of teamwork, the people that we may struggle to work with are still unique and valuable beings created by God, created in His image. We may not know all the details behind why a person may not be as willing to work as a team, but we should respond with patience and love, just as God demonstrated to us.
Christian introverts and small group learning
At the start of this article, I referred to the conversation between myself and my pastor about the different relationships that introverted people tend to establish compared to extroverted people. Introverted people tend to have a smaller number of relationships with people but ‘invest’ more in these relationships. This has been reflected in my own friendships.
Personally, I have been blessed to have a small, but tight, friend group where we actually try to meet up online every week for one or two hours and do a brief study session. This helps me study the Bible regularly, and also helps me to fellowship. These friends provide accountability and motivate growth in spiritual maturity, which I apply to my vocation.
If you are a medical student, I would encourage you to get involved in Christian groups at university and find other Christian medical students. Even though reaching out in these groups can be a struggle as an introvert, the fruits that can be reaped from these friendships can be amazing. This is especially if there is an intentionality behind reaching out – ie. to seek deep fellowship.
God makes each and every one of us in a unique fashion, and although intuitively it seems that Christian introverts should struggle with teamwork and small group learning, God uses both our strengths and weaknesses to bring Himself glory, through us, in the healthcare field. “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” (2 Cor 12:9)
Dr Isaac Li Dr Isaac Li is an intern working at the Mater Hospital in Brisbane, with a budding interest in paediatric medicine. He grew up in small church in Brisbane. Isaac wants to demonstrate Christ’s love for us through how we interact with patients and their close family members, particularly in the context of young patients. Isaac loves singing and playing worship music (especially corporate worship in the church!), and playing/watching touch football and soccer.